'This is the most challenging programme of my twenty years of ministry as a bishop'. These words were spoken by Bishop Hilkiah about a Safe House in Mugumu which lies at the very tip of the southeast region of his diocese. Populated by a tribe, the Kuria, who still practise the abominable act of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), the safe house and associated programmes, provide support for girls fleeing their homes, and their families, to escape the horror of this brutality.
Opening its doors on the 6th December 2014 before the biannual 'season of cutting' the house was built to provide room for 40 girls but in the end 134 girls made their way there. Some arrived beaten and injured, many only with the clothes they wore, all terrified and alone. It is estimated that in the Mugumu region alone 500+ girls were not so fortunate.
FGM is illegal. Mara diocese is working with the government with the financial support from the Britain Tanzanian Development Trust, also a hefty donation from the United States, and a contributions by WYAD, and has worked hard through its educational programmes to combat this practise by raising awareness of the Safe House through educating the tribal leaders, families and the girls.
"My life has future", one young girl at the Safe House remarked, "I am learning new skills: computing, tailoring and cooking". The project is committed to vocational training so that the young women are given opportunities and a new life is made possible. Many will remain at Mugumu and receive an education not afforded to them before but many will return home reconciled to families through the intervention and mediation of the project workers.
Mama Rhobi, herself a victim of FGM and the inspirational founder of this project, recognises the challenges of what thy have started and the dangers it poses, "Deeply held traditions are being confronted and cultural changes made. This but the beginning".
Bishop Hilkiah also reflected "We are seeing the devil in these evil practises and we must fight this evil".
Photograph with permission of the staff and residents of Mugumu Safe House